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Schools, parishes, families, and the needy all coping with coronavirus

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

Catholics are praying for those afflicted with COVID-19, their loved ones and caregivers, those who have died from it, civil leaders trying to control it, and all those afraid of it.

But its effects are rippling out in a variety of other ways, too, among families and schools and parishes and the vulnerable in our communities.

Schools

Cynthia Zook, director of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Duluth, said the past weeks have “been challenging days” with a lot of hard work at each of the diocese’s schools.

As Gov. Tim Walz closed schools across the state and moved to remote learning, Catholic schools have made the same transitions. Zook said one of the challenges is that communities and schools — and the families of students — may have very different levels of access to the technology and infrastructure needed for remote learning, an issue she’d like to see the Legislature address in the future.

“They’re figuring it out in each individual site,” she said.

That has meant creativity and an acceptance that glitches may pop up at times. The schools in our diocese are sharing ideas among themselves and gleaning wisdom from what other schools around the country are doing, but Zook said the speed with which everything happened left little time for collaborating.

“We just had to jump in with both feet and trust in the Lord,” she said.

She said the teachers are working hard with a “spirit of can-do,” and getting patience and support from their communities, where parents are learning from the experience too.

Zook see a potential silver lining in that the whole thing may end up expanding opportunities to use this kind of technology in new ways in the future, a kind of “pilot project for what could be.” So there is hope and excitement too.

Still, Zook said the situation is hard on families and on students. Some families are experiencing disrupted schedules, challenges arranging childcare, and financial difficulties, even just from kids eating more meals at home.

For students, Zook said they are missing in-person connection with their friends and the experiences outside the classroom, like music lessons, sports, or drama, that may give them a real sense of joy and progress.

“I feel very compassionate toward them,” she said.

At the same time, she said some school families are bonding through these experiences too, in old fashioned ways like board games and picnics on the living room floor.

“Many of them are also, during this holy season of Lent, taking advantage of the churches and going to say their prayers in the church as a family, spending time in the Lord’s house,” she said.

Families
The Hacker family is spiritually coping by remaining grateful and sharing what they’re grateful for with neighbors. (Submitted Photo)

Families are coping too. Clergy are reaching out in various ways and encouraging people to find ways to pray together, especially on Sundays.

Some, like the Hacker family from St. Anthony’s in Ely, are coming up with little practices of their own, trying to “do small things with great love.”

Michelle Hacker said the family shares one thing it’s thankful for on a sheet of paper each morning and hangs it in the window. “We then ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us to reach out to someone outside of our home,” she wrote in an email. Those have included notes to neighbors, making snowmen outside the windows of loved ones, sending letters to friends and family and even a mini reception in their home to honor a cousin whose marriage in Texas had to be canceled.

“We also capture each day on Facebook to encourage and uplift others,” she said.

Reaching those in need

For the agencies caring for the most needy in our communities, there are a variety of challenges depending on where you are in the diocese, said Patrice Critchley-Menor, director of social apostolate for the Duluth Diocese.

One such agency is simply closing down for two weeks as a result of state emergency orders.

“So I’m sure that’s going to seriously impact the people in that area,” she said.

She said that many agencies are being creative and adapting to the difficult circumstances, caring for people who are among the least likely to seek out medical help.

“The agencies I’m working with are really rising to the occasion,” she said.

But with people working from home and even some county offices closed down, money is running short for many agencies. And the anticipation is that the need will increase.

Critchley-Menor said that in addition to praying and staying informed through the diocesan Office of Social Apostolate and the Minnesota Catholic Conference, financial contributions to the diocese for these efforts would also be a way to help, especially given that needs are going to be different in different communities across the diocese and in the rapidly evolving situation.

“We want to have more money in that pot so we can respond and that our response can be flexible enough that it doesn’t exclude some weird case” in a particular city, she said.

She added that it’s also an opportunity for all Catholics to grow in how they see current events through the lens of Catholic social teaching.

“It’s a really interesting opportunity to practice our faith in a way we have not before,” she said.

Parishes

Also facing challenges are parishes, where, with no congregation on Sunday, there is no passing of the collection plate, even as bills continue to come in.

“Our parishes are on a spectrum of how much emergency reserves they have,” said Franz Hoefferle, chief financial officer of the diocese. Some have enough to weather months, while others don’t.

That could mean potentially reducing staff hours or furloughing people, essentially temporarily laying them off, although Hoefferle said parishes are trying to maintain staffing to the best of their ability and continuing to try to employ people, even if they are temporarily “re-purposed” to different tasks than they normally do.

“I think the parishes are doing everything they can to work with what they have,” he said.

Many parishes that do not already have online giving options are working on that, Hoefferle said. Parishioners can also mail in their offering.

He encouraged parishioners to be aware of the needs of their parish, even as he acknowledged that parishioners are facing their own financial difficulties in the situation, sometimes including job loss.

“You just have to look at what you can do,” he said.

Joe Lichty, director of development for the diocese, says Catholics should think of it first and foremost in terms of their faith.

“All of us have a need and desire to give,” he said. “We give to the church as part of the sacred offering, as an act of worship, joining the whole of our lives, and yes all our gifts, with the ultimate gift offered on the altar — Jesus Christ!”

“Just because activities at churches are suspended doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still offer God our first fruits,” he added. “Making a financial sacrificial offering isn’t a fee for service but an act of worship.”

No public Masses? Pastors takes liturgies and more online

By Deacon Kyle Eller
The Northern Cross

The faithful being temporarily unable to receive Holy Communion has been a matter of tears both for some of the faithful and for some of the clergy.

In the attempt to stay connected in a time of “social distancing,” technology has become a real boon, as many pastors from across the diocese have begun broadcasting Masses, rosaries, Divine Mercy Chaplets, the Liturgy of the Hours, parish updates, and more on Facebook, YouTube, or parish websites.

Nothing can substitute for being present at Mass, but at least 16 priests from Brainerd to International Falls are or have livestreamed Masses for the faithful to have some sense of participation in the liturgical life of the parish, joining a host of remote options that already included the televised Sunday Mass on WDIO/WIRT-TV sponsored by the Diocese of Duluth and other broadcast Masses, such as those from EWTN.

Father Paul Strommer celebrates a private Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Duluth March 29. The Mass was livestreamed for parishioners on the Cathedral’s Facebook page.

One priest of the diocese who has drawn attention even from the local secular media is Father Brandon Moravitz, pastor of Holy Spirit in Virginia. He has been an eager adopter, using his Facebook page and parish website and YouTube page to broadcast Masses and prayers as well as doing frequent live updates and coordinating initiatives with parishioners, such as choosing a local small business to support each day.

“It’s been a great light into our community,” he said.

One thing he’s been doing is leading night prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. He said the couple of hundred views on the videos, when translated into the families that accounts for, means there are 500 or 600 people a night praying along. “There’s families of eight that are there praying at night,” he said.

Getting people to pray in their homes has always been a goal, and through recent events he sees it “happening in ways I could never have imagined.”

“We literally have homes all over this town with altars,” he said.

Father Moravitz said he’s getting half a dozen messages every day from people telling him they are experiencing God at home like they never have before. The experience is even reaching non-Catholics and people who have been away from the church and discover they’re missing Mass.

“There’s people in this community that have never set foot in a church that are praying every night,” he said.

“I’ve never felt more like a priest in my 10 years as a priest,” he added.

Father Ben Hadrich, pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas in International Falls, said he been expanding his online presence in recent years, for instance posting his homilies and other talks on a blog and podcast, and had recently come back to Facebook, inspired by Bishop Robert Barron.

He’s found Facebook to offer ways to connect beyond the written word.

“It’s a new opportunity and kind of the connection of speaking,” he said, in the days before his first livestreamed Sunday Mass.

He said he likes that people can hear his voice and get what he’s trying to say better than with just text. The challenge is that not everyone uses Facebook, and some don’t have a computer or smart phone at all.

He said he’s been assisted in that endeavor by his ordination classmate, Father Moravitz. “The stuff he’s doing is just unreal,” Father Hadrich said. He added that there is a lot of sharing behind the scenes among the priests to learn to use these technologies.

Father Moravitz said the technology actually doesn’t come so naturally to him.

“I had never heard of a YouTube channel in my life until a couple of weeks ago,” he said.

He said he surrounds himself with people who know how to do things and has three or four people he can call to help him record things, put together videos and podcasts, and use social media site.

“If this was just me, none of this would be happening,” he said.

Coming back to Mass

One possible concern with using this technology is that people might get too used to it — to the point that after they get the all clear to return to Mass, they will mistakenly think watching it on TV or online is the same thing.

Father Hadrich said he thinks most of the faithful Catholics will be back in the physical church and that with the those reached by the technology, parishes may pick up some new people.

Father Moravitz says as long as the focus is on inviting people to a deep relationship with the Lord, churches will be packed when the “all clear” is given.

“If we are evangelizing people and leading people to conversion, we have nothing to fear,” he said.

He has hope that it’s going to be a bridge and an avenue to greater things.

“I just sense the stirring of the Spirit in all of this,” he said.

Finding a local livestream of Mass

Following is the list of parishes and priests in the diocese who are known as of this writing to be livestreaming some or all of their Masses. See www.dioceseduluth.org/coronavirus or the individual sites for additional details. Please share updates to [email protected] org so that the list can be kept current on the diocesan website.

• Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, Duluth (on its Facebook page)
• Holy Angels, Moose Lake (on the parish website)
• Father Joseph Sobolik, of St. Cecilia and Mary Immaculate (on his Facebook page)
• St. Andrew, Brainerd (through Facebook Live)
• Brainerd Lakes Catholic Churches, Brainerd (through its parish website)
• St. James and St. Elizabeth, Duluth (on its Facebook page)
• St. Benedict Church, Duluth (on the parish website, via father Joel Hastings’ YouTube page)
• Father Blake Rozier, of Immaculate Heart, Crosslake (through his Facebook page and Immaculate Heart’s Facebook page)
• Father Mike Schmitz, of the University of Minnesota Duluth Newman Center (on the Ascension Presents YouTube channel)
• Father Brandon Moravitz, of Holy Spirit, Virginia (on his Facebook page)
• St. Joseph, Grand Rapids (on its Facebook page)
• Blessed Sacrament, Hibbing (on HPAT cable Channel 5 or on the Hpat.org internet channel online)
• Father Nick Nelson, of Holy Cross, St. Martin, and St. Mary (on his Facebook page)
• St. Anthony Church, Ely (on its Facebook page)
• St. Patrick’s, Hinckley, and St. Luke, Sandstone (on their Facebook page)
• St. John’s, Grand Marais, and Holy Rosary, Grand Portage (on their Facebook page)

Betsy Kneepkens: Hectic spring schedule takes a dramatic turn

My April column has taken a dramatic twist. Not too long ago I was overwhelmed by family and work scheduling obligations that were planned for this spring. I was anxious over prioritizing and trying as hard as possible to fit everything in. A part of my article was going to be about how wrong I was that life’s scheduling demands would get easier as my children got older.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

My thoughts were that although parenting younger children requires more day-to-day local obligations, parenting adult children creates
“desired scheduling,” meaning that as a parent you try to take advantage of as many opportunities you can to interact with your adult children when they are no longer at home with you.

I was going to write about the challenges of fitting in all the significant family functions. I was going to share some ideas on how best to accomplish those life memories alongside some special work events I had planned for this time of year. I wanted you to know that I was going to take each day at a time, because being stressed about being overly busy would destroy the main purpose of why life was hectic.

On the docket, I had multiple opportunities from college graduation, confirmations, my son’s wedding, and work-related items, like the women’s conference. I anticipated my schedule would be crazy, but I was excited that most of these events involved my children and other special life moments. I knew I couldn’t do everything; I knew that the time was limited and precious and I did not know what to leave out. These sorts of decisions were bringing me angst.

I knew the pandemic was concerning, but I did not realize how troubling the situation was until I received a phone call from my college senior son. Very distraught, he informed me that his in-person classes were moved online for the remainder of the year. He was most worried about his college graduation being canceled. He can sometimes be overly dramatic, so I told him to settle down, that he was overreacting. Because “educators” told my son a college degree was unrealistic for him, walking across the stage with honors was extremely important to him. I had to de-escalate his concern, because it sure seemed absurd at the time that his graduation two months from now would be canceled.

Shortly after getting off that phone call, my phone rang again. When I answered the phone this time, my daughter who was on the other end of the call was sobbing. Initially it was difficult to understand her. We realized that she was telling us that the state girls basketball tournament she was playing in just got canceled. Like my son’s goal, playing in the state tournament was one of her dreams and something she worked for every day. She was distraught because that moment was taken from her at no fault of her own. Telling her at that moment that this will be a great life lesson wasn’t going to cheer her up. I simply listened and tried to share in the pain with her. There just were no words to minimize the situation at that moment.

Finally getting my daughter to the point where I could hang up the phone, the dang thing rang again. When I answered the phone this time, it was our diocesan administrator, who shared that the Women’s Conference needs to be canceled — a conference that glories in having over 550 women from around our diocese come together in faith, an event that requires planning for nearly a year with a dozen dedicated volunteers, an event I look forward to all year, and a particular privilege because I work alongside some of the holiest women I know. In a matter of moments, the conference was canceled.

In the next subsequent 24 hours a trip to Philadelphia, a dream vacation to the NCAA Division I Women’s Final Four, an address at a Relay for Life in St. Louis, and my future daughter-in-law’s bridal shower were all wiped from my calendar. Shortly after that, my freshman son who attends St. Louis University told me he had to be out of the dorms now, and my son in medical school said his in-person classes were canceled, so he was coming home to study for his boards.

At this point, no one is going anywhere. Three of my adult children are living at home, and a fourth will be here soon. My husband and I have been encouraged to work from home, and homemade meals have now become a priority again. Laundry is piling up. The house is getting messy, and we are dusting off board games. We are filling up time telling stories, baking cookies, and doing some exercising.

Our first streamed Mass together will be this Sunday. So, we are otherwise laughing, contemplating what this all means for the economy, and staying on top of the news together. As a family, we are resolved that we have no control over this matter, and so we say enjoy it anyways.

This pandemic will end, so I must wisely use this time to be present with my family. Certainly, I hope and pray that this horrible virus is driven from our planet, but I can’t help but hope that in this horror there are blessings. I am convicted to remain in touch with the gift of time God has given me to be with my family and free myself of any stress this situation could cause me. Stay at home, and stay well.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Father Michael Schmitz: Love in the time of corona

Masses have been canceled. How are we supposed to survive as Catholics, much less continue to grow and raise our families in the faith?

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a great question. And it is one that many people are asking in the midst of what seems to me to be an unprecedented moment in our history. I don’t know if there is anyone currently alive who has experienced what we are going through right now.

Before we look at how you can survive, let’s look at why officials in the church might have made the determination to restrict public participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. On the surface, this is quite unreasonable. It even seems like an obvious overreaction. As others have noted, if the coronavirus were merely a virus like any other, it would be an overreaction. If this were just about individual behavior, this kind of quarantining would be unreasonable. But when we consider that we are not merely individuals who only have to think of our individual welfare, we realize that dramatic self-quarantines are not necessarily for the individual but for the common good. In other words, what would be an overreaction for an individual is not an overreaction for the community.

I’ve heard people say, “I don’t care if I get sick — I need to go to Mass.” I am in that same boat. That is my perspective as well. And yet, this virus is reminding us that we are not called to live for ourselves. The quarantine might not be so that you don’t get sick, but so that others don’t get sick because of you. Quarantine, then, becomes an act of love, not merely an act of wisdom.

Others have said, “The bishops just don’t have supernatural faith in the midst of a crisis. They should know that we need prayer now more than ever.” While I understand the sentiment (and agree that we need prayer now more than ever), I am glad that those who make these claims have the luxury of being able to criticize. The leaders of our church have the challenge of making decisions that will have a life or death consequence. We need to pray not only for ourselves and our loved ones, but for them.

Now, how do we survive in the midst of a world where the Mass is not being offered? The first thing to realize is that no priest is going to stop offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for even one day. The proscription is against the public offering of Holy Mass comes with the call for each priest to continue offering Mass regularly. St. Padre Pio once noted, “The earth could exist more easily without the sun than without the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” The Mass will continue to be offered. The grace of the Mass will continue to be available to everyone in the world and in purgatory.

How can you pray, though? How can you continue to grow?

I would like to suggest three ways.

First, the Liturgy of the Hours. Each day, every priest and religious sister and brother (and many laypeople) pray what is called the Liturgy of the Hours. This is known as the official prayer of the church. In fact, while every priest is encouraged to offer the Mass every day, they are required to pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day. This consists of setting time aside for prayer five times a day: Morning Prayer, Daytime Prayer, Evening Prayer, Night Prayer, and what is called the Office of Readings.

I would love to invite every Catholic to make the Liturgy of the Hours a regular part of their prayer life. They don’t have to prayer all five times, but even simply starting with Morning Prayer could bear much fruit. Remember, when you pray this universal prayer of the church, you are united with the entire church throughout the world. Powerful.

Second, in our diocese, parishes have been told to keep the church doors open so that the faithful can visit their Lord in the Eucharist. Please visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament! If your entire family is in quarantine, this could be a phenomenal way to get out of the house, as well as stoke your love for the Eucharist. Jesus is Emmanuel (God with us) and he truly tabernacles among us. The doors remain unlocked. Go to him. Stay with him.

In a great season of crisis, St. John Bosco had a vision: the church was a massive ship in the midst of a terrible storm. The only thing that preserved the ship from total destruction were two pillars rising from the sea; one massive and the other smaller. The massive pillar was the Eucharist and the smaller pillar was Our Lady. How do we weather this storm? By visiting Jesus in the tabernacle and by staying close to Mary. (Praying the rosary has changed the course of history in the past, and it continues to do so.)

Lastly, you may know what the Mass “is” and what the Mass “does.” The Mass is the offering of the great once-for-all sacrifice of the Son to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit for the Father’s glory and the salvation of the world. The Mass is nothing less than that. Now, your priest is going to be offering that great sacrifice up for you every time he prays the Mass. But you can be a part of this through one incredible prayer.

The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a way that Catholics can participate in and “extend” the sacrifice of the Mass into the world. Remember, the Mass is the sacrifice of the Son to the Father. That what is happening at every Mass. One of the prayers in the chaplet is,
“Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” This prayer sums up briefly the action of the Mass and allows the Christian to exercise their priestly character by uniting themselves to the sacrifice of Jesus offered through the ministerial priest.

The worst is not being unable to go to Mass. The worst would be to fail to pray as we can during this time when we can’t go to Mass.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at [email protected]

Livestream options for Mass

During this time of suspended public Masses, there are a number of places, both within the diocese and outside of it, where Mass is available via livestream.

A prayer of Spiritual Communion may be made at the appropriate time of the Mass, or at any time of the day or multiple times of the day:

My Jesus, I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart.
I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You.
Never permit me to be separated from You. Amen.

Here are available and planned livestreams known at the moment. An updated list will be available on the diocese’s main Coronavirus page.

Livestreams from within the Diocese of Duluth
  • Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, Duluth: livestreaming a 5 p.m. Saturday Mass and 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass on the parish Facebook page, possibly adding some number of daily Masses as well.
  • Holy Angels, Moose Lake, livestreams all its Masses on the parish website, and the livestream is always up, so if the faithful would like to do a “virtual Holy Hour” before the Blessed Sacrament, that will be available 24-7. Daily Mass will be at 8 a.m.; Saturday at 5:30 p.m. (also on the local public access channel) and Sunday at 8:30 a.m.
  • Father Joseph Sobolik, of St. Cecilia and Mary Immaculate, is livestreaming his Masses on his Facebook page.
  • St. Andrew, Brainerd, is planning to stream its Masses through Facebook Live Sundays at 10 a.m.
  • Brainerd Lakes Catholic Churches, Brainerd, plans to livestream its Masses through the parish website.
  • St. James and St. Elizabeth, Duluth, will be livestreaming a 10 a.m. Sunday Mass. 
  • St. Benedict Church, Duluth, will be streaming its Masses on its website. Livestreams can also be found on Fr. Joel Hastings' YouTube page. Daily Masses Tuesdays at 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. (Latin), Thursdays at 8 a.m., and Fridays at 8 a.m. (Latin). Sunday Masses at 9 a.m. and noon (Latin).
  • Father Blake Rozier, of Immaculate Heart, Crosslake, is livestreaming his Masses on his Facebook page. Daily Masses will be Tuesday through Friday at 8 a.m. (except on Tuesday, March 24) and Sunday Mass at 10:30 a.m. Masses will be reposted on Immaculate Heart's Facebook page. 
  • Father Mike Schmitz, of the University of Minnesota Duluth Newman Center, will be livestreaming Sunday Mass at 9 a.m. on Ascension Presents' YouTube channel.
  • Father Brandon Moravitz, of Holy Spirit, Virginia, will be livestreaming his Masses on his Facebook page. Sunday Masses are at 10 a.m.
  • St. Joseph, Grand Rapids, will be streaming its Masses on Facebook at 9 a.m. daily, including Sundays.
  • Blessed Sacrament Hibbing, will be streaming its 8 a.m. Sunday Mass on HPAT cable Channel 5 or on the Hpat.org internet channel online. Mass is rebroadcast on Wednesday at Noon and Thursday at 10 a.m.
  • Father Nick Nelson, of Holy Cross, St. Martin, and St. Mary, will be streaming his Sunday Masses on his Facebook page. Masses will be reposted on the parish website
  • St. Anthony Church, Ely, will be streaming its Masses on Facebook. Daily Masses are 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Sunday Masses are at 10 a.m.
  • St. Patrick's, Hinckley, and St. Luke, Sandstone, are streaming their Masses on Facebook. Sunday Masses are at 9:30 a.m.
  • St. John's, Grand Marais, and Holy Rosary, Grand Portage, are streaming their Masses on Facebook. Daily Masses are at 8:15 a.m. and Sunday Masses are at 9 a.m.
Outside the Diocese of Duluth

Duluth Diocese announces additional measures to stem Covid-19 

March 18, 2020 — In a directive today, Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, announced additional temporary measures to help stem the spread of Covid-19.

Resource

In the new directive, all public Masses are suspended through April 20, effective Friday, March 20. (Priests may celebrate a private Mass without a congregation.) In addition, the diocese has cancelled all gatherings of more than 10 people and said that even in smaller gatherings, those vulnerable or showing any signs of illness should stay home, and all present should practice good hygiene and “social distancing” policies such as remaining six feet apart.

The document also contains guidance for Holy Week liturgies, as well as questions regarding first Communions, confirmations, and funerals.

Father Bissonette said that confessions and office hours should continue to made available on a regular basis, that churches should be open for an extended period each day so people could come individually and pray, and reiterated guidance for keeping Sundays holy when Mass is not available. He said the clergy and faithful should continue to visit and care for the sick, including through providing the sacraments.

"I do not take these temporary measures lightly and I strongly encourage you, the Faithful and the Clergy, to do the same," Father Bissonette wrote. "Let us pray that I will be able to lift them soon, that we will remain safe and well as we stand with Mary at the foot of the Cross during this crisis time, and that we will be able quickly to resume the public sharing of the Gospel and our Catholic faith."

He noted that the measures could extend beyond April 20, or should conditions improve more rapidly than expected, that they could be lifted at that time.

# # # 

Duluth Diocese dispenses Catholics in the region from Sunday Mass obligation

March 13, 2020

In light of the rapid spread of the coronavirus (covid-19) across the world and now to Minnesota, Father James B. Bissonette, diocesan administrator for the Diocese of Duluth, has dispensed Catholics in the diocese from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation for the duration of the crisis.  

Resource

For Catholics, attending Mass on Sundays and certain other important holy days is an obligation and a precept of the church. That obligation is not binding in certain circumstances, for instance when it would be impossible or in cases of illness. For just reasons, the church’s pastors can also “dispense” or lift that obligation for the faithful. 

In a letter to the faithful to be read at Masses this weekend, Father Bissonette said that during this time, Masses will continue to be celebrated at the usual times in parishes and institutions. But should a member of the faithful decide that attending a Mass would pose a risk either to themselves or to others, they can in good conscience refrain from attending. 

Father Bissonette made the decision after receiving the advice of the Minnesota Catholic Conference (the public policy arm of the state’s bishops) and a local infectious disease specialist. Other dioceses in the area are taking similar steps. 

At the same time, Father Bissonette advised parishes to cancel any large parish gatherings through the month of March, extending that as necessary. That includes the diocesan Women’s Conference, which had been scheduled for March 28.

The decision to dispense from Mass and cancel large gatherings follows guidance issued a week ago by Father Bissonette advising pastors, at their discretion to: 

  • Suspend the practice of Communion under both kinds and  
  • Suspend the physical exchange of the Sign of Peace.

Both involve options in the liturgy of the Mass that can help reduce the likelihood of disease transmission. 

Father Bissonette also encouraged pastors to tell their faithful to stay home if they feel sick or have flu-like symptoms, to wash their hands frequently, and to check with the Minnesota Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control for the latest updates and recommendations. 

The diocese continues to monitor the situation at the local, state, and federal level and will provide updates as needed. 

In his letter to the faithful, Father Bissonette encouraged those unable to attend Mass to “still do what we can to keep holy the Lord’s Day.” He suggested such practices as following Mass on television, the radio, or online; making a Spiritual Communion; and other practices, such as silent prayer, reading Scripture, praying the rosary, or other prayerful devotions. 

“As all of us rise to the challenges presented by the coronavirus, let us remember to pray for one another and to support one another as children of God and brothers and sisters of the Lord, most especially those affected by this virus and those who care for them,” he said.  

Father Michael Schmitz: Is Christianity about relationship, not religion?

Some of my co-workers seem think that I believe that my religion saves me. They say that Christianity is about a relationship, not a religion.

Father Michael Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a very good question. Of course we are brought into a new and miraculous relationship with God through his Son, Jesus. What a massive gift! But there has been this strange rise in a false dichotomy between faith in Jesus and faith in the church he founded. You find more and more people who maintain that they “love Jesus but not the church.” It is even another step away from the truth to claim that a person doesn’t need the church. There are so many reasons why this is not only shortsighted but is demonstrably false and contrary to the way in which God has interacted with his people.

First, before we go into any more complex reasons why the church is not optional, you could ask your friends who believe in Jesus how they know who he is. You might get some responses that include “He is my Lord” or “He is my savior” or “He is God.” Someone might even state the formulation, “Jesus Christ is true God and true man.”

These would all be good answers. But then you could ask the necessary next question: How do you know that? They might say that they know this from reading the New Testament. And that is good. But there are at least two critical errors with that simplistic answer.

First, where did they get the New Testament? Who chose those particular Gospels and not any others? Who selected those writings of St. Paul and St. Peter and others and did not choose other writings that existed at the same time? If they are basing their knowledge of Jesus off of the Bible, we are able to point out that they only have the Bible because of the Catholic Church, because the Catholic Church gave us the New Testament (and even codified the writings of the Old Testament).

What is more, how do they know that Jesus is true God and true man? There was quite a bit of debate over Christ’s identity in the early centuries of Christianity. Some doubted whether Jesus was fully human. Others maintained that Jesus was part-God and part-human. The Catholic Church consistently defined and defended this reality of Jesus, and the Council of Nicaea in 325 settled the matter. There are many, many things that people who “don’t need the church” believe that they merely inherited from the official and visible institution of the Catholic Church.

But that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface regarding our need for the church. This goes all the way back to the way God entered into relationship with people from the very beginning. From the start, when God entered into covenants with people, they always involved an individual and a corporate component. For example, if a man was brought into relationship with the Lord God, he would be circumcised, and this meant that he was not only in covenant relationship with God but also with the People of God (the Jewish people). There was never merely an individual relationship with the Lord God. And this is brought to fulfillment in the New Covenant.

When we are baptized, we are made into sons and daughters of God the Father, but we also become members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). We are brought into a family. If there is one thing we need to remember about family, it is that family implies real relationship. And real relationships involve real rights and real responsibilities. Because we are part of God’s people, we have access to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit. But we also have responsibilities to God — and to his family, the church. This is how God has established it from the beginning, and he did not abolish it, but brought it to fulfillment in Christ (Matthew 5:17).

We have to do away with this silly notion that “religion” is a bad word. Actually, let’s look at the word itself. Religion comes from the word “/religare/” which means “to bind.” At this point, I can hear someone saying, “Exactly! That’s all religion does! It makes people ‘bound’ to man-made rules and regulations!”

But that isn’t what the word refers to. Yes, it refers to the fact that religion “binds” us to the Lord and to his church (we are made into members of his body), but it is more (Ephesians 5:30). But there is another aspect.

Consider the word “sin.” This word has a complex etymology, but one strain of the word comes from the word “sunder.” To sunder is to be divided, to be pulled apart, to be split. And this is our experience. Sin has sundered our hearts and our relationships, not only within ourselves, but also with God. Isn’t “binding” exactly what a sundered heart and a sundered world needs? If you agree, then you would also agree that this world needs religion, not merely a relationship.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at [email protected].

Betsy Kneepkens: Kobe Bryant shows sinners belong in the church

I am a sinner. Although I genuinely strive to live the holiest life possible, I have inclinations that drive me toward sin, and I succumb to those behaviors. Worse yet, I am not sure I have made it more than 24 hours after receiving the sacrament of reconciliation before I have sinned again. I rely on God’s mercy to keep me in a relationship with him.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

Although we established our family roots in northern Minnesota, the sport of hockey never took hold with us. We are, for all practical purposes, a basketball family. Both my husband and I played, and each of our children played in high school. Basketball is a pastime that our whole family enjoys.

Like most Americans, when the news arrived that Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna were killed in a helicopter crash, the information stopped us in our tracks. The notion that someone so young and accomplished, would die unexpectedly like that caused us to pause.

At the time the news broke, I was rebounding basketballs for my daughter. The announcement was received as breaking news on her cell phone during a water break. Immediately my daughter surfed the internet as I waited impatiently for more information, hoping the original headlines were a hoax. We reached out to other family members to see what they had heard. As time passed, and more credible news sites covered the story, the hope of deception diminished.

Although most did not know that Kobe Bryant embraced his Catholicism, as a fan, I had known his faith was very important to him. He attended Sunday Mass when he had road games and raised his children in the church. Furthermore, it was not extremely unusual for him to wander into church to contemplate alone or attend daily Mass. The wider world seemed to learn about his devotion to his faith when the news reported he went to church before the accident. It seemed to me that the media was a bit surprised that a superstar athlete, like Kobe, would be a Catholic.

As hours passed after the helicopter crash, the retold story that Kobe was unfaithful to his wife and settled out of court with the alleged victim of sexual assault became newsworthy again. For some, the duplicity of his behavior, as husband and potential assaulter, caused others to appear to be disturbed when Kobe was identified as a devoted Catholic. I am perplexed that after 2,000 years since Christ walked the earth there are still people confused about sinfulness and a person’s relationship with the Catholic Church.

I know that I could never condone the behavior of assault or infidelity, but I wonder where the notion developed that sinners should not be practicing Catholics. For me, the belief that Kobe grew in his faith, strove to stay close to Christ, and received the sacraments was the hope Christ had for all of us. I find solace in knowing Christ’s hope.

I am assuming it was the tenets of his faith that brought him to his admission and sincere apology for the harm he said he unwittingly caused another. When I sin and seek redemption, the first place I look is my faith. Furthermore, I am not confused one bit when the first communal prayer at Mass is an act of contrition. We need to get the message out that Catholics sin even while seeking holiness. Other than the confessional, there is no better place for a sinner than in the pews of a Catholic church.

The other matter that Kobe situation brings to light is what it means as a Catholic to forgive. We are all harmed by each other’s sins, but in most cases, there is a particular victim that is directly harmed. How do we hold up, support, and respect those directly wounded by sin at the same time we forgive the sinner? Does forgiving the sinner mean you are not respecting the person sinned upon? Was Christ so radical that he calls us into two separate but simultaneous journeys — one for us to help heal the wounded and another to forgive the sinner, all while not depending on the wounded to heal or the one who caused harm to be contrite?

It is Lent, and I am a sinner. Kobe, his death, his past transgressions, and how we are called to treat situations like this is a significant matter to contemplate. I need to wrestle with the relationship between the sinner and the person sinned upon.

Christ didn’t say that God is the only forgiver and healer, but rather we are called to do the same. Lent is a great time for me to put this to prayer and seek a better understanding, because if I can figure out how to rightly love the sinner and those sinned upon, I can remain hopeful I will be treated the same.

May Kobe, his daughter, and the other passengers rest in peace. And may those who misunderstand the necessary relationship we should have with Christ and the church during our sinful times be enlightened by the church’s mission this Lenten season.

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.

Father Michael Schmitz: How do I get better at being generous

I find myself being less-than-generous quite often. I want to have a better attitude, but people keep wanting things from me: they want my time, my help, and my financial support. How do I get better at being generous?

Father Mike Schmitz
Father Michael Schmitz
Ask Father Mike

This is a fantastic question. Many people want to be wise in their lives, but it is something special when a person is asking for a way to become even more than simply wise, they want to become good. Even more, in your question, I hear you asking how you can become more like Christ.

This is the best possible question because it is the entire point of being a Christian: becoming like Christ in all things. So, when it comes to “his stuff,” how did Jesus view his life? While Jesus is the Lord of all and is fully divine and equal to the Father, in his humanity he was absolutely insistent on affirming that he lived to do the Father’s will. How did he see “his life/stuff/mission”? It might be boiled down to the statement, “All things have been handed to me by my Father.” How did Jesus live generosity? It began with his fundamental attitude towards life.

Let me say it this way, if we want to become more generous, it doesn’t begin with action, it begins with vision. It has less to do with how we live in the world and more with how we look at the world. A person can behave generously (and that would be very good), but behavior has to have a deeper root, and this deeper root is one’s worldview.

There are essentially two ways of looking at one’s life: as an owner or as a steward. I can see all of my stuff, my time, my talents, and my everything as “mine,” or I can see all of those things as what has been “entrusted” to me. They are either my possessions or they are someone else’s possessions that are merely on loan to me. The difference between these two worldviews cannot be underestimated.

If I look at my life as my life, there are two natural tendencies that I will likely embrace. First, I will quickly become insensitive and indifferent to all of the good in my life. After all, if all of this is “mine,” then I will rapidly take it all for granted. It is no longer a gift, it is what I am “owed.” Of course I have this body: it’s mine. Of course I have these gifts; they’re mine. Of course I have these accomplishments; they’re mine.

If that is how I see them, then I might be generous with them, but each time, I am generous with “my” stuff. I may give you some of “my” time, but that continually costs me something. There is a limit to generosity like this, and there is a limit to gratitude if my attitude is like this.

In addition, if my perspective is that my gifts, things, and time are my own possessions, then what is my perspective when they are taken away? Every gift we have will be taken from us. Every bit of time will be taken from us ultimately. At some point, each one of us will get sick, suffer loss, run out of time, and die. If I believe that I am the rightful owner of my life, then I will likely view that loss with resentment. I could potentially become overwhelmingly bitter at the prospect of losing all of my things.

These are two of the consequences of seeing oneself as the owner: ingratitude in the face of giftedness and resentment over those gifts being taken away.

But that is not the only option. And it is not the perspective of Jesus. We can acknowledge the deeper truth that we are not owners but stewards. We do not have possessions, we have been entrusted with gifts by the Father. They are his.

Remember the parable of the talents? Or the parable of the gold coins? After the master distributes the talents or coins to the servants, he leaves with the hope that the servants will do something with his gifts. In fact, when he returns, he asks, “What did you do with my money?” It is his money. They are his gifts. Every moment, every heartbeat, is his. Every breath and every talent you or I have belongs to him. We have been entrusted with his gifts so that we can do what he wants with those gifts.

This should lead us to incredible gratitude and generosity. At every moment, we could give thanks over every little thing that we know does not belong to us, but that he continues to entrust to us. Imagine waking up and giving God thanks for the gift of sight. Imagine not complaining about being sick, but being able to breathe and saying, “God, thank you so much that I am not sniffling today!” Rather than resenting the gift that has been taken away, imagine the freedom of being able to let go of the gift without hesitation and give God praise for the amount of time he shared it with us.

The way to be generous is to acknowledge that we are not the owners of anything in this world, we are stewards. And nothing we have been entrusted with actually belongs to us; it is his and each day we have been given multiple more opportunities to use his gifts the way he wants.

Father Michael Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at [email protected]